Letter to Kirwan from the Black Teacher Recruitment and Retention Working Group

November 29, 2018

Dear Chair Kirwan,

As members of Baltimore City Public Schools’ Black Teacher Recruitment and Retention Working Group, we are writing to share input related primarily to the High Quality and Diverse Teachers and Schools Leaders working group of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission). For the last six months, we have collaborated as teachers, other educators, school district leaders, advocates, and community members and engaged in public conversations with more than 200 individuals in Baltimore.

Our focus has been exploring how to increase the number of Black teachers in Baltimore City Public Schools, which is both at a ten-year high as a percentage of the district’s teacher workforce and still significantly lower than it was twenty years ago. The Commission’s January 2018 preliminary report mentioned the need to make special efforts to recruit a more diverse teaching workforce and indicated a belief that students benefit from having teachers who “look like me.” Research, including a study just named in the Baltimore Sun last week, continues to affirm that children benefit from Black teachers. We would like to see the Commission more specifically and explicitly address the needs of Black students and Black teachers.

Our work with this group has uncovered several areas of concern that we hope the commission will address in its recommendations. Our work has focused on Black teachers but many potential strategies would more generally benefit all teachers.

From our work so far, we believe that retaining Black teachers could have an even larger impact on high-quality teacher shortages than recruitment as a lever. In our Working Group discussions, we have heard of concerns that align with national data on reasons that Black teachers leave teaching. Our discussions as well as the implications from those data point us to the following recommendations:

Teacher Mentoring. We would like to see significant additional investment in teacher mentoring. The State requires new teachers to receive multiple years of mentoring, but we know that when mentoring duties are on top of a full teaching load, the depth of mentoring that is possible is limited. We also know that in some schools with high turnover, it is sometimes difficult to identify a seasoned teacher to fulfill the mentoring requirement. The demands of teaching across our state are significant, and we know that new teachers need more support. We would like to see funding for full-time mentors, especially in schools serving high numbers of students living in concentrated poverty. Previous Commission mentions of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in multiple Maryland LEAs aligns have spoken to this interest.

Teacher Mentoring. We would like to see significant additional investment in teacher mentoring. The State requires new teachers to receive multiple years of mentoring, but we know that when mentoring duties are on top of a full teaching load, the depth of mentoring that is possible is limited. We also know that in some schools with high turnover, it is sometimes difficult to identify a seasoned teacher to fulfill the mentoring requirement. The demands of teaching across our state are significant, and we know that new teachers need more support. We would like to see funding for full-time mentors, especially in schools serving high numbers of students living in concentrated poverty. Previous Commission mentions of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in multiple Maryland LEAs aligns have spoken to this interest.

Understanding Trauma. In addition to the Commission’s recommendation in Working Group #4 that there be training for school staff on understanding trauma, we would like to see funding for strategies that help prioritize relationships and healing from trauma. We would like to see funding for training in culturally responsive pedagogy and relationship building through restorative practices. We’d also like to see adequate investment in social workers and mental health support staff.

Certification. We know that the Commission has been interested in increasing the quality of teachers through additional gateway exams for attaining certification. We disagree with this approach and hope that the Commission will focus more on supporting teachers in becoming great through mentoring and minimize requirements for initial certification that have no proven correlation with teacher effectiveness. The Praxis is already a barrier for many Black teachers, and for many other teachers. While we share an interest in raising the bar and the prestige of teachers, we would like to see the certification requirements more closely resemble skills that relate to being a good teacher. The kinds of exams proposed now by the Commission have resulted in a narrowing of teacher preparation courses elsewhere, which is not helpful for creating prepared teachers. Instead of more rigid entry requirements, we need more flexibility to be able to find and support people with a range of talents.

Black Teacher Pipeline. We would like to see the Commission extend the Maryland Career Ladder for Educators to include a pathway for paraprofessionals and high school students to become state-licensed teachers. These groups include much higher percentages of African Americans than the current Maryland teacher workforce and the graduates of university-based Maryland teacher preparation programs. We would like to see a funding stream to support students and paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers, including to make higher education more affordable for these individuals with interest in serving as teachers.

The Decline in Black Teachers

The following research and recommendations formed the basis of testimony presented to the district in February 2018. This testimony helped to jumpstart a collaborative working group that focuses on how to reverse this decline.

Black teachers are important

Research says that Black teachers are essential for modeling black success and that assigning a black male to a black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades significantly reduces the probability that he drops out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males. Exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood that persistently low-income students of both sexes aspire to attend a four-year college.  (The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers http://ftp.iza.org/dp10630.pdf). Other studies do show that good instruction can override ethnicity in relation to academic outcomes but for more holistic outcomes, black teachers are vital.

 

Why the Decline?

At the national level, in the last 25 years, “the minority teaching force has increased at more than two and a half times the rate of the non-minority teaching force.” (Albert Shanker Institute [ASI], 2015. The State of Teacher Diversity American Education, p.2) The overall percentage of minority teachers in the national teaching force has risen from 12% to 17%. In the same time period, however, cities like Baltimore with large numbers of minority and high poverty students have seen a huge loss of minority teachers (with the exception of LA where the hiring of Hispanic teachers has increased dramatically).

 

What’s unique to Black teachers is that they are disproportionately represented in majority Black and high poverty schools, and many of these schools have the worst conditions for teaching (and learning)--rote learning tasks, a narrow curricular focus, over-testing, little autonomy, top down authority, and punitive discipline practices.  As a result, Black teachers leave at disproportionately high rates in majority-minority cities with a preponderance of highly segregated and low income schools.

 

In the ASI study of 9 cities, (not including Baltimore), the reasons dissatisfied Black teachers cited for leaving include: (ASI, p. 20)

o   Dissatisfaction with Administration (81%),

o   Dissatisfaction with Accountability/Testing (65%),

o   Student Discipline Problems (61%),

o   Lack of Influence & Autonomy (57%),

o   Poor Workplace Conditions (56%),

o   Classroom Intrusions (46%),

o   Poor Salary/Benefits (39%),

o   Dissatisfied with Teaching Assignment (31%),

o   Class Sizes too Large 23%

 

“While students’ race and ethnicity, poverty levels and school urbanicity are not factors in and of themselves, the same hard-to-staff, high-poverty urban schools that are more likely to employ minority teachers are also more likely to have less-desirable working conditions. And these less-desirable conditions, our data suggest, account for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover.... In other words, the data indicate that minority teachers are employed at higher rates in schools serving disadvantaged students, and then depart at higher rates because these same schools tend to be less desirable as workplaces….Schools that provided teachers with more classroom discretion and autonomy, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision making, had significantly lower levels of minority teacher turnover.” (ASI, p. 21)

 

In Baltimore, during the time period 2003 to 2015 the share of Black Teachers decreased 24.5 percentage points from 63% to 38%. During the same time period the share of white teachers increased nearly 14%. In comparison to 9 other large urban areas Baltimore has one of the steepest declines during this time period. (On par with New Orleans and Washington DC).  

 

How teacher and student accountability measures make things worse

The decline in Black teachers in our major cities was exacerbated by the introduction of Common Core standards, the accompanying set of achievement measurements (PAARC), and the movement to attach teacher evaluations to these standardized tests. These measurements are used to label students, grade schools, increase pay for teachers considered to be improving student achievement, and weed out “underperforming" teachers.  The assumption has been high standards and competition between schools and teachers will produce better results. In fact, what has happened is that the profession of teaching has been made more burdensome, while leaving students no more able to achieve. Even the most stalwart promoters of testing, choice and competition, such as the Fordham Institute, acknowledge that understanding the value of effective teachers is a different matter from making effective policy to find and keep more of them.  Recent attempts to use policy and funding to increase teacher effectiveness have not had the desired impact.

(https://edexcellence.net/articles/education-reform-is-off-track-heres-how-to-fix-it)
 

The narrative of accountability appeals to a collective public frustration about struggling schools, but the strategies promoted are not necessarily effective and can be counter to the public interest. Baltimore has not been subject to the same level of education reform tactics (replacing existing schools with charters, massive numbers of school closures, de-unionization of charter school teachers) as have other cities.  But we have been subject to a merit-based teacher contract, an overall reduction in force, a loss of unionized employees as a result of the outsourcing of education programs to private entities, and massive increases in time and costs associated with testing, with the effect of further reducing discretionary school-based spending and curtailing time for relationship building, reflection, and teacher growth in schools.

 

In the end, assessing a student and a teachers’ worth through measures that focus on test-based achievement measures rather than on addressing the humanity of children and understanding the circumstances that surround school life is demeaning. The reality of Black oppression makes Black teachers more likely to resist any kind of purely data-driven approach to classrooms or to school improvement.

 

Summary of the Problem

Despite a national trend over the past 25 years in which the proportion of minority teachers in the teaching profession has increased, the State of Teacher Diversity study shows that in low income minority districts there has been an alarming decline in minority teacher representation.  While more research is needed to draw solid conclusions, disruptions such as shrinking the overall size of a teaching force, closing schools, adding charter schools, and significantly changing the way teachers are evaluated have all been shown to be triggers that can destabilize teachers who are already teaching under the most difficult conditions.  And it is minority teachers who are over-represented in those with the most difficult assignments.   

 

What we want to see change

After conversations with educators and advocates, we have emerged with the following proposed changes to the recruitment, certification and support process for teachers.

 

Recruitment

  • Limitations on alternative certification contracts including limits to total number of contracts and requirements for hiring Baltimore residents, and teachers of color.

  • Focus efforts to design a set of recruitment pathways that attract and retain Black and Brown educators.  These pathways should be modeled after successful programs across the country and can be paid for in part out of the funds currently spent on contracts with alternative certification programs:

    • Prioritize recruitment at HBCUs and other institutions that incorporate culturally responsive principles and practices in their teacher education curricula.

    • Prioritize and offer early contracts at hiring fairs focused on Black and Brown candidates.

    • Provide Baltimore City School graduates financial or other incentives for becoming teachers in the system.

    • Implement a program to move high school students, paraprofessionals and committed Baltimore residents with a Bachelor’s degree into teaching positions

    • Provide experienced, fully certified teachers with incentives to come back to the classroom.

 

Certification

  • Eliminate PRAXIS and other standardized tests as primary gatekeepers for determining the most suitable candidates for our classrooms; and the need to allow for multiple types of supported pathways to teaching with flexible certification requirements.

  • New teacher induction programs that: allow time for reflection and coursework as part of the normal work week, include effective and intensive mentoring, and assess teacher candidates over time, based on multiple measures (not just test-scores) of classroom performance, cultural competence, and potential for growth.

  • Communication with local institutions of Higher Education regarding coursework for provisional teachers to make sure that the classes offered toward certification are relevant and significant to teachers who are already in the classroom and include classroom-based support.

 

Support for teachers

  • Placement of full-time mentors in schools that have the highest teacher turnover rates and the most difficult teaching conditions.  This mentoring program could be based on the successful Blum Mentoring Program that was shut down in 2005.  Sources of mentors could include retired educators.

  • Work with the teachers union on targeted and strategic reach outs to teachers who are vulnerable to leaving the district, determining what is causing them to want to leave, and troubleshoot possible individualized solutions.